Articles

A Coming-of-Age Graphic Novel Explores Gender and Identity

by An Xiao on January 27, 2014

Lily, the title character of Flutter, in the process of transformation.

Lily, the title character of “Flutter,” in the process of transformation

Flutter, Massachusetts-based writer Jennie Wood’s latest comic series, explores themes of gender and sexuality through science fiction. Like any good coming-of-age tale, it’s set in high school and centers on Lily, a young woman who has the ability to change genders at will. As Jesse, her male manifestation, she is a popular basketball player with a beautiful girlfriend; as Lily, she joins an all-girl rock group and starts to fall for the band’s leader.  Meanwhile, a mysterious man seems to be on the hunt for her, for reasons that are yet to be fully revealed.

If it sounds like a lot to digest, it is. However, the story unfolds as a serial graphic novel, in complex stages and threads, and the illustrations help express the story and ground us in the characterizations. It’s a somewhat bumpy narrative start at the beginning, but as the story progressed, the pieces began to make more sense. For the project, Wood collaborated with illustrator Jeff Comsey, who produced the world of Flutter with rich colors and a purple-hued theme. Lily and Jesse vaguely resemble each other in McComsey’s illustrations, visually communicating that they are the same person, expressed separately.

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The fateful moment with Lily crashes into Saffron; her affection for Saffron causes her to switch genders.

“A writer has so much room to explore the gray areas of gender and sexuality within sci-fi. In the sci-fi genre, shape-shifting is nothing new, it’s an accepted ‘super power’ so I can use it to explore the differences in gender, how society treats boys differently from girls,” noted Wood in an interview with Hyperallergic. She contrasts this sci-fi reality with the storytelling she’s done for A Boy Like Me, about a young transgender man living outside a science fiction universe. “The people around [A Boy Like Me’s main character] see the world as very black and white versus the gray area of Flutter’s sci-fi based story. The people around him assume because he’s boyish and he likes girls that he’s lesbian. So [it’s] a more linear story. His world is much more claustrophobic.”

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While Lily isn’t transgender per se, her apparently fluid sexuality and ability to shift genders open the door to exploring the general challenges of identity building in adolescence. As Wood explained in an interview with PolicyMic, she aimed for “that moment of teen angst” when adolescents seek independence from their parents. Soon, however, Lily and Jesse realize adulthood is a lot more complicated and perhaps dangerous than they expected.

To distribute the comic, Wood is partnering with 215 INK SHOP (the website is currently unavailable), which makes the story available both online and in print. Her comic has gotten a lot of attention so far, a sign of how online distribution is bringing out more diverse voices of comic artists and graphic storytellers. “For creators, writers and artists, the internet provides a direct line to readers,” Wood said, “And if someone is looking for LGBTQ voices and perspectives in comics, those stories are only an internet search away.”

Jennie Woods’s Flutter is available at Amazon and other online booksellers.

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